One of the big truisms in Australian politics is that sooner or later the mob will find you.
The problem for Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the latest poll is that it suggests the mob tricked him and the trend isn’t his friend.
That doesn’t mean he’ll lose the next election. But it certainly poses more challenges than it might seem at first glance.
Newspoll tells a story that many people miss. Scott Morrison has a problem. And this problem depends on the competence.
Sure, he’s 50-50 on the polls. However, it is his voter satisfaction rating that provides some evidence that all is not well on Planet Morrison.
The traditional wisdom in Australian politics these days is that Labor cannot win. Just as the political class believed in the run-up to the 2019 elections that Labor could not lose.
But that assessment is wrong, even if you think Anthony Albanese is an ineffective, uninspiring political leader with some bad suits and silly hats who fails the exam of a prime minister you’d like to send to London for a cup of tea with the queen.
He can be all of that and still win the next election. He could be none of it and still lose. The reason? Voters traditionally kick governments out. They don’t vote for opposition.
This was Bill Shorten’s big failure in the last election. He gave Scott Morrison so many guidelines, so many lines of attack, that he made the Labor Party history, not the government’s own achievement. Reason enough for voters to think twice and stick to the status quo.
Nobody thought John Howard was a big hacker when he won the 1996 election. Paul Keating was then the giant killer of politics who, like Scott Morrison, surprised the experts by winning the 1993 election against John Hewson.
Howard ruled for 11 years. Why? Because regardless of your policies or your opinion of John Howard, he was considered a competent prime minister who led a competent government.
Mr Morrison’s dominance in Newspoll has been shaken by two external events since his surprise election in 2019.
The first was his Hawaii vacation in the midst of the 2020 bushfires that broke his approval ratings. It was the ultimate moment when the boss passed out in a crisis and all employees could never see him like that again.
The bushfire crisis was the political moment when the prime minister declared, « I don’t hold a hose, buddy » and generally tried to blame states for shortcomings.
But voters don’t really care about political leaders going through money and shifting the blame. They want problems to be fixed.
The Prime Minister has previously said that he has learned a lot from this fire process. This was one of the reasons he took a different approach in the early stages of the Covid pandemic, which skyrocketed his approval ratings.
When the pandemic started, his first instinct was to fight Victoria’s Dan Andrews and other prime ministers of the state.
But just because you’re being cheered on by the right and your partisan fans doesn’t mean you’re doing what you have to do to please mainstream voters who are just trying to fix issues.
Most recently, it was the result of Brittany Higgins’ allegations that she was raped in the House of Parliament. This was the big moment Labor took the lead again in Newspoll, as did the bushfires.
All of these events are linked by a common thread – is the Morrison government a competent government that can handle a crisis?
Shifting voters may not be impressed by the partisan argument that the prime minister is an angry misogynist. Not many believe that.
But they could be unfazed that after one of the coalition’s own employees was allegedly raped, that employee screwed up in his own office.
Put simply, the June poll tells us that for the first time since February, the coalition can catch up with Labor on a bipartisan basis.
The well-received budget is part of that recovery. It was seen as a competent budget that cut taxes and did what voters asked governments to do.
The approval ratings for the PM have fallen by four points to 54 percent in the past three weeks. The number of dissatisfied voters has risen by five points to 43 percent.
The Prime Minister had a good story to tell at the start of the pandemic. The closure of the country’s international borders kept Australia safe. Don’t expect these restrictions to be lifted until the next election.
This is too dangerous for the Prime Minister, even if we are fully vaccinated, because more travelers will bring more Covid with them.
It is a haunting reminder that Mr Morrison also understands that the next general election cannot yet be taken for granted.
That’s why Labor would be insane to tinker with the high income tax cuts that are already required by law. Unless they want to throw a liferaft to a prime minister who may need one soon.
Right now, Mr. Albanese’s greatest weapon remains the idea that he’s a loser who just can’t win.
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